I recently was informed by my administrative officer that I was receiving the Armed Forces Service Medal. In 1993, I was part of a detachment of VP-45, flying the P-3C Orion on armed reconnaissance missions off Yugoslavia during Operation Sharp Guard. The Department of Defense decided that we needed a medal for large-scale operations of a humanitarian/peacekeeping nature, so we could reserve the Humanitarian Service Medal for small-scale operations.
Awarding this medal is a warning call for our profession of arms. It is by no means unprecedented for a President to use the armed forces in trying to solve the world's ills. What is truly alarming, however, is the large-scale acceptance by our senior military leadership to pursue military operations other than war.
At present, the bulk of the U.S. armed forces are involved in counternarcotic operations, nation building, peace keeping/enforcement, humanitarian rescues, and even adopt-a-school, not to mention employment of Marines during the Los Angeles riots. The problem is that little if any of these operations prepares the U.S. armed forces for what we're supposed to do—fight and win wars. While the Department of Defense budget is devastated by the cost of these non-wars, our readiness is suffering, and our perishable technical war-fighting skills are evaporating. We are conducting fewer exercises needed to train and use our new and complex equipment, and our troops are becoming all too comfortable with the concept that we are the Red Cross, Peace Corps, or police, instead of the world's premier fighting force.
Articles have appeared in professional journals, including Proceedings , recommending ways to keep generation "X" officers in active service. Many young officers are disillusioned by the post-Cold War role of the Navy and Marine Corps: leading men and women in operations other than war. We need vision, focus, and quality leadership at the highest levels, and must remain focused on warfighting. We will be better off with a smaller force—if it is highly trained, motivated, combat ready, and focused on our profession—war.
As for retaining generation "X": Our professional officer corps needs to be liberally educated. Officers should have to attend a war college before promotion to 0-5, and should focus more intently on the customs and traditions that foster the sense of belonging to a group not found in corporate America: a true "band of brothers." Finally, our senior leaders need the strength of conviction to stand up to powerful political leaders and say, "No Sir, we should not do that. We are spread too thin providing a forward presence, and we are kept too busy with our need to train for war."
What we really don't need is another medal—awarded for yet another military operation other than war.
Lieutenant Rees is a P-3 pilot and is assistant Strike Ops on the Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).